What to Expect – and Demand – from Your Solar Bidders
See How Two Real Solar Bids Compared in These 8 Areas
I’ve been working remotely as a content writer at Coastal Solar for several years.
During that time, I developed a strong desire to go solar myself once my wife and I were able to afford a home. I became so familiar with the benefits – financial and environmental – of going solar that I was eager to jump on it at the soonest opportunity. A year ago, we finally got our home, and we were thrilled that it came with a south-facing separate garage – perfect for a solar array. So, we sought out a couple bids from solar installers.
Why didn’t I work with Coastal Solar? I certainly would have, but I live in Washington state, and they don’t currently have offices there. Though they do have a thriving office in Southern Oregon, it’s still too far from me.
So I took this opportunity to see how other solar power companies handle the bidding process. Needless to say, it was eye-opening. We took two bids in person after reviewing a number of websites and online reviews.
Why did I settle on those two? I had four primary criteria:
- Good history of solar installations
- NABCEP-certified solar installer on their team, such as Keith Freeman [link to staff page] at Coastal Solar
- Not a huge national company, because they tend to be more expensive without delivering any greater value
- Uses modules that have at least a 25-year power production warranty.
My name is Dan Magill, and my new 7.25 kW solar array is pictured below. It produced 36kWh its first full day. In Washington. In October. Who says it’s always cloudy here? We’re very happy.
But what did we learn from the bidding process? Let’s find out!
What You Should Look for in Your Solar Bidding Experience
To make this a little more fun, here’s the game plan. First, I’m going to walk you through a list of topics you should expect to hear about from any company that bids to install a solar array on your residence, hotel, farm, or other business. At the end, I’ll share how my two bidders compared to each other and to this list.
To be clear: This is a minimum list. Having been through the experience, I would reject any solar installer that doesn’t address every single one of these topics.
A good solar bid should include:
Enough Time to Cover Everything – 60 Minutes Minimum
When a solar bid is done right, there is simply too much to cover and still expect to finish the consultation in less than an hour. The only exception might be unless you, the person buying the solar array, ask no questions. But let’s be honest, you’re considering installing an electricity generation system on your property, of course you’re going to have questions.
Plan enough time for your solar consultation. And to be clear – if it takes an hour or more, that’s a good thing. You’re making a big purchase and a big investment. You want to get it right. Getting it right takes time, so plan on it, and expect it.
A Preliminary Solar Array Layout
With satellite imagery available from Google, your solar bidder can take photos of your roof, estimate the measurements, and prepare a couple possible solar arrays before even showing up at your door.
You want this, because it means you’ll be talking about real and tangible options in your very first meeting with your solar bidder, rather than just guessing, delaying the process unnecessarily.
Estimates of Power Production and Money Saved
The solar company may request power bills from the past 12 months or more. Why is this so important?
Because this information combined with their preliminary solar array estimate, your bidder can then project how much power it will produce over the course of the year, as well as how much money you will save over the life of the system. Again, these will all be estimates.
But now, with this information at hand, you will be informed enough to discuss everything related to putting solar panels on your home, all in just one meeting.
What’s better? Covering everything in one meeting, or giving up time for multiple meetings and follow-up phone calls and emails as more information and options trickle in?
Multiple Solar Array and Panel Options
Your solar bid should offer you several options for solar arrays you could purchase. This gives you ballpark figures for what to expect in terms of cost and power production. Variables can include number of panels to be installed, placement of panels, types of panels, cost options, and the pros and cons of each of these.
For instance, some panels produce more energy, but they also cost more up front. So you can spend more, but also produce more power. Or spend less, but produce less power – with the same number of panels. Which option is best for you? You should expect your bidder to be able to discuss these divergent options, and offer a sound analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Tax Credits, Rebates, Net Metering
Some states, cities, and even certain utility districts have different tax incentives, or in some cases disincentives, for going solar.
I knew about the federal 30% tax credit, known as the Investment Tax Credit. I also knew it begins to decrease at the end of 2019, and wanted to know how each solar company would handle that, since our array might not get installed and certified before the year ended.
But I wanted to know about other tax credits too. I know a lot about Tennessee, and Mississippi tax credits because of Coastal Solar. But Washington? I didn’t know.
Same goes for net metering. I didn’t know if Washington and my utility offered it or not. My solar bidder should know this and should bring it up in our solar consultation if I forget to do so. They should also be able to explain clearly how it works.
Discuss Special Circumstances for Your Property
Every location is different. Which way does your roof face? What is its angle of pitch? Is there any tree shading at any time of day, and during any season of the year? Remember, the sun is lower in the sky (much lower where I live) during winter. Tree shading could potentially become a big issue.
If you have a roof with several different sections facing different directions, which parts are solar-worthy, and which are not? Your solar bidder should already know the answers to this before arriving at your consultation.
For example, south-facing roofs, like our garage, are ideal. But roofs that face southwest or southeast are often still superb solar opportunities. And even pure east and west-facing roofs can work, especially if you can put panels facing both directions.
Your solar bidder should plan on talking about these variables and your options.
Payment and Financing Options
Any company will of course take an all-cash payment up front. But if your business or residence prefers a solar financing option, like we did, your solar bidder should be prepared to discuss options for that as well.
Answers to Any Questions You Have
You might need help understanding how solar works. Where does the electricity go? How will it show up on my power bills? What’s the inverter for? What happens if I over-produce or under-produce? What happens when the power goes out? How does the solar array interact with my electric meter and the circuit breaker panel?
You’ll have practical questions, too. How long does installation take? How many people will be involved? Do you need access to my home? When is your next scheduled opening?
When you really start thinking and talking about solar power, you will have questions. The more you talk about it, the more questions you will think of. Your solar bidder should have most of the answers. Now, do you see why you don’t want to do this meeting in ten minutes? It’s a process.
My Solar Bidding Experience – a Stark Contrast
So that’s a pretty good list of really substantive topics you should expect to discuss during your solar consultation. What was my experience like?
Solar Bidder A did pretty much everything on this list.
The meeting lasted about two hours. We asked tons of questions and got answers to all of them except a couple highly technical ones related to electricity. We received price options based on different panel types. We saw estimates of power production and money saved.
We were also shown banks this company works with for solar financing, and were given some of the key differences to help us choose which one fits best for us. For instance, one bank allows you to defer payments until the array is actually installed. Another bank allows a one-time refinance after you receive your federal tax credit.
Also, we happily learned from Solar Bidder A that Washington state exempts solar purchases from sales tax. Woohoo! That’s a $2000 savings I didn’t expect. Gov Jay Inslee talked a lot about climate change while running for president. Good to see that in this instance, he is also walking the walk, as he apparently played a role in passing this solar sales tax exemption.
Solar Bidder A also brought photos, printouts, and other materials to walk us through our various options and help us understand. And even though I know a lot about solar based on working with Coastal Solar, I still learned a lot in her presentation.
Solar Bidder B?
The meeting lasted ten minutes. We got a business card. We were told he could definitely do it. And after taking some measurements of our roof on the spot because he hadn’t done any in advance like Solar Bidder A, he said he would get back to us over email with our bid options and we could go from there.
That was it.
It took days to get the bid options over email, and even longer to get some additional questions answered.
Any guesses about which solar bidder we chose?
Now you know what to look for from a solar consultation. And notice I never mentioned the price difference. Considering everything you just read, would you care about a few hundred dollars difference, or even a thousand? Truth be told, I can’t even remember which was cheaper.
Try Out Your Own Solar Consultation
See how Coastal Solar’s bidding consultation compares to this description.
Request a quote and a solar consultation for your business or residence today!